Monday, January 16, 2017

Old postcard: Shakespeare
and "The quality of mercy"

To start the week, here is a dirty and scuffed old postcard that was produced by F.A. Owen Company of Dansville, New York, and postmarked a century ago, in 1917. It features an excerpt from one of William Shakespeare's most famous speeches, the speech on mercy delivered by Portia in The Merchant of Venice. Here is the speech in full:
The quality of mercy is not strain'd,
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath: it is twice blest;
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes:
'Tis mightiest in the mightiest: it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown;
His sceptre shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty,
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;
But mercy is above this sceptred sway;
It is enthroned in the hearts of kings,
It is an attribute to God himself;
And earthly power doth then show likest God's
When mercy seasons justice. Therefore, Jew,
Though justice be thy plea, consider this,
That, in the course of justice, none of us
Should see salvation: we do pray for mercy;
And that same prayer doth teach us all to render
The deeds of mercy. I have spoke thus much
To mitigate the justice of thy plea;
Which if thou follow, this strict court of Venice
Must needs give sentence 'gainst the merchant there.
* * *

On the back, we learn that this postcard was postmarked in Red Lion and mailed, not far away in York County, to Ellen Hake of Hellem [sic].

The note, written in a purplish pencil, states:
Dear Mother I will write you a few lines to let you know that I am well at Present time. I hope you are [?] real good.
Dear mother i'm coming home on Saturday if nothing Happens and ant ogly and so good By
My take on that last sentence is "if nothing happens and ain't ugly," as in ugly weather. But I could be off on that guess. What are your thoughts?

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Germany after World War II: Peaceful flowers and landscapes

Here's a book that works to highlight the bucolic side of Germany (and Switzerland), a few years after the end of World War II.

It's a paperback volume (with a dust jacket) titled Blühende Welt, which translates to "Flowering World." The other phrase featured on the cover is Naturaufnahmen, which means "nature photography."

The book was published in 1949 by Langewiesche-Bücherei and, according to an English-language note on the bottom of the title page, it was a "publication authorised by Publications Control Branch, Frankfurt Det. Information Control Division OMG for Hesse." This was a government office run by the United States. OMG stands for Office of Military Government. The military government, created after the end of World War II, administered the area of Germany and sector of Berlin controlled by the United States Army. It was in place from May 1945 until December 1949. Here's an excerpt from Wikipedia that describes how information was controlled:
"During the initial first months of the US occupation of Germany, the US Army proceeded to create a monopoly over informational and mass media, shutting down newspapers, radios, and journals. As such, US media sources were the only mass media available in occupied Germany, provided primarily by Radio Luxemburg, US Army information fliers (Mitteilungblätter), and Army newspapers. With the assumption of control by the Office of Military Government, this process of media monopolization gave way to gradual inclusion of German media under the auspices of strict censorship and oversight by the [Information Control Division]. In 1945, the ICD assessed and vetted an initial 73 German editors to resume operations of paper media, newspapers, and journals. Though the ICD and OMGUS assumed a stance of open and positive inclusion by Germans removed from Nazi affiliation, these editors operated under conditions of post-publication censorship, whereby non-compliance could lead to the revocation of media licenses."
But enough about controlling the media! Let's enjoy some beautiful flowers...

Frühlingswiese im Hochgebirge
Spring meadow in the Hochgebirge

Am Zugersee
On Lake Zug

Im Engadin
In the Engadine

Landstraße im Frühling
Country road in spring

Friday, January 13, 2017

1970 "Stop Pollution" first-day cover, octopuses and #FridayReads

This first day cover from October 28, 1970, features a six-cent SAVE OUR SOIL stamp, which was part of an anti-pollution set of four designed by Arnold Copeland and Walter Richards. The other three designs featured the phrases SAVE OUR CITIES, SAVE OUR WATER and SAVE OUR AIR. Excellent ideas.

The cachet side of the envelope has a black, green and gray illustration in which an octopus sits atop the continental United States. The headline states "STOP POLLUTION" and the text underneath states "STAND AND FIGHT THE CREEPING DECAY OF OUR LAND, AIR AND WATERS."

If I'm interpreting the illustration correctly, the octopus represents POLLUTION, with its tentacles getting a tight hold on the USA. That's entirely unfair. Octopuses aren't villains.1 We need to STOP POLLUTION so that we can save ourselves, our soil, our oceans and our octopuses. We're on the same team. If anything, we're THEIR villain, polluting the oceans they're swimming through. (End rant.)

* * *

Speaking of octopuses, Joan sent me a link this morning to an opinion piece in The Washington Post titled "Just how smart is an octopus?" In the article, author Callum Roberts discusses Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness, a new book by Peter Godfrey-Smith. Regarding the book, Roberts cautions: "Don’t read this book ... if you want to continue eating calamari with an untroubled conscience, for living cephalopods are smart, beautiful and possessed with extraordinary personalities."

Other Minds was also reviewed recently by Carl Safina for The New York Times. Safina writes:
"Octopuses have personality (cephonality?), some shy, some confident or 'particularly feisty.' Some — not all — play, blowing and batting bottles around. They recognize human faces; one study confirmed that giant Pacific octopuses could even distinguish people wearing identical uniforms. Octopuses become fond of certain people, yet at others they squirt disdainful jets of water. One cuttlefish squirted all new visitors, but not familiar faces. ... So, like humans, cephalopods can categorize. Some squirt their lights out at night, short-circuiting them. They 'have their own ideas.'"

* * *

I had already added Other Minds to my "to read" list on Goodreads. And so, transitioning from cachets to octopuses to books, here, for #FridayReads, are the books I'm currently reading:

  • Building Big, by David Macaulay
  • City, by Clifford D. Simak
  • Namesake, Volume 1, by Isabelle Melançon and Megan Lavey-Heaton
  • Remaking the World: Adventures in Engineering, by Henry Petroski

Other Minds joins more than 280 other books on my current "to read" list. I might have to admit that I have a problem. But when you're talking too many books, that's a great problem to have, right?

Finally, my friend Susan announced on Facebook today that she's getting ready to dive into 1Q84, a 900-plus-page behemoth by Haruki Murakami. I've had my eye on that hefty volume for a while, too, but (1) I can only do one huge book at a time, and I'm slowly working my way through and savoring The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York, by Robert A. Caro; and (2) Murakami's surreal, dense fiction intimidates me a bit, so I'm working my way up to 1Q84 by tackling some of his shorter novels first. Next on my list is South of the Border, West of the Sun.

What are you reading?

1. Fun with language: Octopuses is the proper plural of octopus. According to Wikipedia: "The scientific Latin term octopus was derived from Ancient Greek ὀκτώπους. ... The alternative plural "octopi" – which misguidedly assumes it is a Latin "-us"-word – is considered grammatically incorrect."

Cool illustrations: The New Human Interest Library (Part 13)

For this Friday the 13th, here is Part 13 of the examination of the great illustrations inside 1929's The New Human Interest Library. Shown below are pages 87, 88 and 89 from the section titled "Toymaking." Here is first paragraph of that section, which includes the word "keen":
"Children in all periods of the world's history have shown an interest in toys. Recent excavations in Egypt, Mesopotamia and Tripoli have brough to light dolls, carts, horns, animals forms and other toys played with by children from three to five thousand years ago. The interest in toys is just as keen today; more are produced now than at any other time in history."
The pages below show creative ideas and tips for making toy dogs, cats, elephants, birds, mice and more. These pages have been repurposed from the Macmillan book Teaching of Industrial Arts, according to the credit at the bottom of the pages.

I like how some of the toys take their inspiration from other cultures and pieces of art — prints, weavings and brocades.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

1984 comic book advertisement for TSR's Endless Quest books

This full-page, full-color advertisement appears in the November 1984 issue (Volume 1, No. 10) of Marvel's "The Saga of Crystar, Crystal Warrior."1 It is located on the issue's glossy inside-back cover.

The advertisement touts the Endless Quest gamebooks that TSR (the company that gave us Dungeons & Dragons) published throughout the 1980s. These were the wizards-and-dragons version of the more-famous Choose Your Own Adventure books, which got their start with 1979's The Cave of Time.

Here's how the advertising copy describes the Endless Quest series:
"One path leads to night creatures who live to destroy. Another leads to a castle holding untold riches. But one path leads to the Wizard King, who can grant you limitless powers. Which path to follow? The decision is yours, but only moments to choose...2

"Compared to the TSR ENDLESS QUEST Books, other adventure tales are just a yawn. Because ENDLESS QUEST Books let you decide the action and outcome of every story."

I was a big fan of the first dozen or so Endless Quest books, which were right in my middle-school geek wheelhouse, alongside Dragon magazine, the Three Investigators series, Hans Holzer books, Star Wars figures and Lego's amazing Beta I Command Base.

I still have a handful of them on my bookshelf, mostly for nostalgia's sake. The early books had fabulous cover art and design. Titles included Dungeon of Dread, Mountain of Mirrors, Revolt of the Dwarves, Revenge of the Rainbow Dragons, and Spell of the Winter Wizard. Eight of the first ten books were written by Rose Estes.3

What are your memories of gamebooks like Choose Your Own Adventure, Endless Quest, Fighting Fantasy, and Which Way Books? Share your thoughts in the Comments section. Or turn to Page 13.

1. Full disclosure: I only bought this issue, from the discount bin, so that I could blog about the advertisements. "The Saga of Crystar" is a footnote in Marvel history that only ran for 11 issues and was a blatant attempt at cross-marketing new comic characters with a new line of toys and action figures. In addition to Crystar, the series included good-guy characters named Warbow and Ogeode (get it?) and a bad guy named Moltar who had an army of Magma Men. Doctor Strange made a cameo appearance in the series, but he really doesn't like to talk about it. I doubt we'll be seeing a "Saga of Crystar" Netflix series anytime soon. (I'd be all for rebooting this comic, though, if they want to weave Baron Von Papergreat into the narrative.)
2. Not true. There was no time limit. You could wait as long as you wanted before deciding whether to turn to Page 18 or Page 44.
3. During the first year or so of Papergreat, I came close to doing an email Q&A with Estes, who now has an ephemera-centric business, The Woof Gang, that involves the sale of notecards and art prints that feature vintage photographs of animals. But it didn't work out. Still, I recommend that you check out her website.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

From a Moorish fountain postcard
to Clark Ashton Smith's sculptures

This old postcard had been sitting toward the top of my to-blog pile for a couple weeks, but I kept skipping it in favor of other posts. Not because I don't like it, but because I couldn't quite formulate what I wanted to write about it.

I just like it. It's creepy. It's cool.

Printed on the back of the postcard, in Italian, is "Antica Fontana nella Piazza di Ravello." And someone else, long ago, added this, in cursive: "Moorish fountain, Ravello, Italy."

Ravello is a small coastal town in southwestern Italy. Nine centuries ago, it was packed with about 25,000 residents. Today, it boasts only about 10 percent of that total — about 2,500 inhabitants, many whose well being is supported by a robust tourist economy.

This is truly a postcard image that needs to be clicked on, so you can see the magnified view. In addition to the amazing skeletal tree in the background, you can examine, in detail, the woman leaning quietly beside the fountain, nearly blending into it; the two stone animals sitting atop spouts; the construction of the fountain itself; and, on the far side, the hunched-over woman carrying a basket or basin on her back.

Of all the shadows and oddities on this postcard, though, it's those animals that intrigue me the most. They're an eerie combination of dog, monkey and human. Unearthly, really. I've decided that they remind me of the sculptures created by Clark Ashton Smith (1893-1961).

Smith was best-known for his weird short stories and poems. But he was also a prolific sculptor and painter. And some of his creations were photographed to create the dust jackets for his works.

For example...

Lost Worlds (Arkham House, 1944)

The Abominations of Yondo (Arkham House, 1960)

The Fantastic Art of Clark Ashton Smith(1973)

Sweet Dreams!

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Book front & back: "Love a Llama"

  • Title: Love a Llama
  • Author and photographer: Colleen Stanley Bare
  • Dust jacket design: Charlotte Staub
  • Publisher: Cobblehill Books (New York)
  • Date of publication: 1994
  • Price: $13.99
  • Pages: 32
  • Format: Hardcover
  • First three sentences: Love a llama, pat a llama, hug a llama. But not just any llama. Some llamas are more lovable, pattable, and huggable than other llamas. [I can vouch for that statement's accuracy.]
  • Last two sentences: Love a llama, pat a llama, hug a llama. For a llama can become your friend.
  • Random sentences from middle: Here is Dinky a month later, alert and playful. Llamas grow quickly.
  • Notes: As a big fan of alpacas and llamas, I picked up this discarded library book at one of last summer's book sales, possibly the Book Nook Bonanza. (They all kind of blur together.) ... This book was once part of the Jackson-George Regional Library in Pascagoula, Mississippi, and it was checked out numerous times. ... The author's other books include Guinea Pigs Don't Read Books; Never Kiss an Alligator!; Sammy, Dog Detective; Critter, The Class Cat; Busy, Busy Squirrels; Never Grab a Deer by the Ear; and Elephants on the Beach. ... A review from the School Library Journal states: "Bare introduces young readers to llamas through many fine-quality, full-color photographs; a large print text; and lots of white space. However, while the information will be useful for reports, the book's poor organization may cause confusion." ... Want more llamas? Check out the 2013 post titled "Hay llamas! 1950s illustrated map of Catskill Game Farm."

From page 30...

(Related post, sort of)

Monday, January 9, 2017

Cool illustrations: The New Human Interest Library (Part 12)

This full-page illustration is from Page 73 of 1929's The New Human Interest Library. We're still in "The Do-It-Yourself Book," in a chapter titled "Bookmaking and Supplementary Projects." So, this time around, we are learning to make books.

The introduction, on the page that precedes this one, states: "Let us make three small books of single sheets, fastened and held together by cords. Our first one will be a word book, the second a list book, in which we may keep lists of telephone numbers, and the third a book for addresses." Necessary supplies for this project include paper, a heavy darning needle, mercerized cotton thread, and book cloth.